STAGES OF TRAINING
Keiko - Simply to train or practice
This is the stage during which the essential movements are perfected by slow repetition, by breaking the kata down into its component parts, by understanding how the techniques work in a fighting situation. With this practice we understand principles of Metsuke (correct use of the eyes), Seme (pressing or pushing) to control, of Maai (combative distance), Kukan (space within combat) and Ma (timing). This study takes about five years of regular practice. This stage is developing control over one’s own body. This stage typically encompasses training up to 1st dan level.
To forge in the same way that a sword blade is forged, with hard work, and sweat, and many hours of dedication, folding together the hard and soft elements in the body, mind, and movement just as the sword gains its strength out of hard and soft steel. Ninja have a saying, “A thousand hammers, ten-thousand shadows,” as the sword is hammered and folded thousands of times, so the martial arts practitioner works, beats and develops their own body. At this stage students increasingly practise without concern for the correctness of the movements (though they must remain correct and effective- but this should be natural by this stage) and repeats the kata uninterrupted with a feeling of Sanshin (stillness). During this stage students benefit from the particularities of the individual schools of the Bujinkan, all nine have a unique flavour and lesson to deliver. This stage is developing control over an opponent(s). Typically, this stage encompasses training from 1st to 5th dan.
Ren means to polish, to perfect by continued practice of both keiko and tanren. It also means to polish the spirit through engaging with the philosophical roots of the ninja art. It is also important to develop a desire for life, by enjoying and embracing all that life offers, through pain, happiness, hardship and joy. This develops a compassionate heart that can pass on knowledge without egotistical pride and arrogance. At this stage, all of the techniques, from all of the schools, blend into a unique Taijutsu of ninpo tradition, with added and individualised style. This stage is about the control of space between the opponent(s) and practitioners, the control of the Kukan. This stage will be from 6th to 9th dan.
After this stage the actions become slower and softer, appearing to a bystander to be less effective-but the technique comes from refined efficiency, not using force-until the moment of potency. Technique becomes invisible to the untrained eye as the ninja learns the secrets of concealment and the art of non-self practice, as though some other force moves within.